By Isa Goldberg
Death is usually a place you get to and not where things begin. So, imagine the obstacles playwright Peggy A. Willens is faced with in her new play "Untying Love." Set in a hospice (scenery by StoneDog Studios), where the Chamberlain family has gathered to bid adieu to their dying mother, one does feel at moments that this play may not have anywhere to go, or if it does we may not want to join it. But director Emma Berry has turned this into an enlightening experience – one which engages our sense of self-discovery in a rewarding way.
It’s Steven Chamberlain (Jed Dickson) who has the highest stakes as he’s lived for so long with the feeling that he just doesn’t matter in his mother’s eyes. Having always experienced the absence of centrality in her world, he’s fraught with guilt. Dickson’s behaviors sometimes volatile, at others self-reviling and tearful, can be hard to believe, but the character’s outcome at the end of the play, the self-awareness with which he is awarded, is worth the wait.
As his brother, Chip, Simon MacLean has the more enjoyable task of tossing out movie metaphors for every situation. The pure triteness of it spurs comic relief. And his son Davey, played by the child actor John Mateyko, acts out one emotion only – anger and frustration at the loss of control. But as the experience of his grandmother’s death unfolds in his world, he gains an understanding of love and constancy that surpasses his years.
The catalyst for this family reunion is Steve’s daughter Isabelle (Kyla Schoer), whose wacky mysticism brings some breakthrough moments to what might otherwise be 100 minutes of drab and morose proceedings. Fortunately, her sense of electricity (both metaphorically and actually) motivate the action. In fact, the play’s best scenes occur when the underlying issues are not discussed – as when the family and the volunteers at the hospice connect over a game of charades. Finally, with plenty to act out in a free-f
or-all fashion, these characters move beyond family rivalries and regrets.
Both, Nancy Hess as Annie and Rodrigo Lopresti as Mark, are wonderful as the aides whose personal experiences with loss bring the story into focus. And the finale in which the prodigal daughter, Cheryl (played handsomely by Marie Marshall) is not one to give away. Still, the disclosures that take place in "Untying Love" are quintessentially moving, provocative and uplifting.
"Untying Love," a production by Opalescent Productions Presents is at TADA! Theater, 15 West 28th Street, through November 4th.
Running time: 100 minutes, with no intermission.
For Tickets and more information click here
Photo: Suzi Sadler
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